Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples
Issue 27 - Evidence, April 28, 1999
OTTAWA, Wednesday, April 28, 1999
The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 5:40 p.m. to
examine and report upon aboriginal self-government.
Senator Charlie Watt (Chairman) in the Chair.
The Chairman: Honourable senators, we shall begin with our first witness,
Professor Nabigon. He will be speaking today on aboriginal self-governance.
Professor Herb Nabigon, Laurentian University: Meegwich. I wish to give an
introduction in my native language.
(Mr. Nabigon spoke in his native language.)
My English name is Herb Nabigon. Nabigon is an old Ojibway word which means a
trap or snare. It word is about 30,000 years old in this country. Our people
come from the north shore of Lake Superior, and that is our traditional
homeland. We have been there, according to archeological sites, for at least
for 20,000 years.
I want to share with you today how we view self-government and how we make
decisions for ourselves in our communities. It is important to recognize the
voice of native people. I am pleased to be sitting with a collection of
senators who have many years of experience in government. It is a pleasure for
me to be here.
In our world, we see order in nature. Everything has order and everything has a
place. We govern ourselves according to that order. That order cannot be
changed. We have always maintained that connection with the natural world and
how we fit it into that natural world.
On page 1 of my brief, I outline a strategy for implementing self-government.
First, it should be recognized that a national will is required to outline a
division of powers. Powers will be negotiated between the federal government
and First Nations. A bilateral process will be established at the appropriate
time to arrive at or include an agreement.
Second, First Nations should participate in the ongoing process of
constitutional amendment and revision.
Third, outstanding land claims should be settled and mechanisms developed to
ensure enforcement of land claims settlements. History has proven that Ottawa
suffers from severe amnesia in regard to such settlements.
Fourth, economic development should be furthered so as to reduce poverty.
Fifth, essential social services of reasonable quality should be available to
all status Indians.
Sixth, First Nations should be able to generate tax revenues that will improve
services to the people and promote self-reliance. In the long term, such
taxation will reduce dependence on federal funding.
Seventh, individual rights should be protected and respected within the context
of respect for collective rights of First Nations.
Eighth, there should be equal opportunity for all status Indians.
The United States regards First Nations communities as domestically sovereign.
Perhaps First Nations and Canada should consider the American experience and
adopt a similar view. This view is explained in a statement by a native lawyer
named Kicking Bird. He made that statement in 1977.
Treaties are very important for native people. As we understand it, treaties
were signed for the following reasons: to establish exclusive trading
relations; to secure the assistance or neutrality of Indian nations in warfare
between the European powers, being the French and the English; to enable
settlement and resource development by non-Indians when they settled the western
provinces; and to extinguish the land claims of native people.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 still stands as the Magna Carta of relations
between native peoples and Euro-Canadians. At the time of the Royal
Proclamation, native people held the balance of power economically, socially,
politically and in military might. The European powers were forced to recognize
the Indian nations. The view held by native people on nation-to-nation treaty
making is based on legal and historical fact.
Today, it is very important for us to recognize that this is not just a
collection of small communities establishing a treaty mechanism with the
governments. It is based on the Royal Proclamation, and on our idea of
As the next step, First Nations within the context of self-government must have
adequate power, resources and legitimacy. Power refers to the legally
recognized authority to act, including legislative competence and jurisdiction.
Other governments must recognize and respect what is done in actual practice.
Resources provide the physical or economic means of acting. Legitimacy refers to
public confidence and support for the government.
The current condition of dependency must move toward self-sufficiency.
Self-sufficiency is achieved when a people have control over the resources they
need and they have the capacity they require to produce their own wealth in
order to meet their own needs and to participate meaningfully in regional,
national and global economic activities.
Land claims play a vital role in restoring First Nation governments. Without
land and our spirituality, we have no government or strength as a people. We
are connected to the land, and our spiritual beliefs are very important to us
as a people. We are starting to restore those spiritual beliefs in our
We look at things according to the universe. The universe is divided into four
cardinal points. The first one is the east, where the sun rises each morning.
It represents to us renewal or capacity building.
The strategy to empower and build capacity among First Nations will be part of a
larger circle of care intended to foster community development and to end
welfare dependency. It is a well-known fact that the unemployment rate is
between 50 per cent to 90 per cent in our communities. No nation or people can
sustain healthy living patterns of life if they are dependent on handouts from
the government all the time. That has never been our way of living, and we wish
to change that.
The south introduces the idea of jurisdiction. For us, the south represents time
and relationships. The sun moves from east to west, and at twelve o'clock the
sun faces south. The sun has always been used as a time piece by primitive
peoples. We still use it today as a way of reminding us of the power of the sun
and how all life grows. Without the sun, nothing grows. For us, it represents
time and relationships.
It will take time to restore jurisdiction with other levels of government.
Realignment of federal First Nations relations must ensure that the Crown's
treaty and fiduciary responsibilities are upheld, and that aboriginal treaty
and human rights and jurisdiction are recognized. Time is a critical element
needed to build trust and mutual respect.
Control and jurisdiction can be enhanced, first, by placing a moratorium on AFA
and FTA transfer agreements because these arrangements limit sovereignty of
aboriginal nations to exercise control in reform; and, second, by forming a
national self-government commission empowered to administer funds with
flexibility and creativity in reform. This national commission would report
directly to the Prime Minister. That is how I see it.
For us, the west represents self-sufficiency and a building of inner strength
and inner healing. For us, a job is the best healer. A sustainable economy must
be developed that is capable of producing wealth and ensuring equitable
distribution to all members through increasing land use and resources. This
will include access to capital for enterprise that will include large, secondary
and small enterprise and manufacturing. It will focus on circulating money
within the community, and it will strengthen international indigenous people
and economic networks to facilitate trade, economic cooperation and
The north means sharing. There are many levels of sharing, including the sharing
of our spirits. The sharing of resources, responsibilities and accountability
for First Nation government must include the following: First, securing an
adequate land base for socioeconomic development; second, access to development
resources; third, access to adequate and appropriate fiscal support; fourth,
adherence to the principles of resourcing inherent to aboriginal and treaty
rights; fifth, First Nations bands must have a right to determine their own
membership and powers, whether they are alone or formally joined with other
bands, sharing the same traditions and language; sixth, Ottawa shall finance the
new First Nation government, as it does the provincial governments, with
equalization payments; seventh, promotion of partnerships at all levels within
the circle of governments; and, eighth, respect for all aspects of the native
voice and consideration of the next seven generations in its decision making.
The colour green is a healing colour for us that represents the earth. Green is
a symbol of balance and listening for us. The earth nurtures the red, yellow,
black and white people, and all living things. Spiritual leaders emphasize the
importance of listening and paying attention to the dark side of life. The dark
side of life can be defined by five little rascals that create all our problems
in the world, including all our illnesses. They are: Inferiority, envy,
resentment, not caring and jealousy. It means that we stop listening. Listening
helps people to make the appropriate changes from negative to positive
behaviour. Listening is an essential component in the foundation on which to
reclaim and recreate self-government.
Finally, the spiritual teachings of honesty and kindness permeate all five
colours. These colours, after green, are red, yellow, black and white for the
people of the earth.
We believe we can build a world based on mutual respect and trust. Honesty and
kindness are the elements of the prevailing belief system which forms the core
of a foundation on which to build our concepts of self-government. It is an
important first step in which traditional elders play a vital role in helping
us to understand self-government at the community as well as the national level.
In conclusion, in the last few years, elders and chiefs have started to promote
community-based healing by using traditional ceremonies as a way for
communities to start taking over their own responsibilities in the areas that
each determines is important. More recently, Mr. Phil Fontaine, National Chief
of the AFN, has adopted a policy to move forward with our elders. This occurred
on March 10, 1999, at the University of Sudbury, at a national elders
Based on our tradition, healing builds stronger individuals, families and
communities so that the existing high levels of social problems can be
decreased and new forms of social, economic and political development can occur
without federal government control. By its very definition, "self-government"
is community-driven, whereby each community decides for itself the level of
self-government it requires. The transition from colonization to nationhood will
take time, but only if the spiritual foundation is strengthened and maintained
can nationhood be realized in the manner in which it was given, as a gift from
Senator Pearson: Thank you very much for your presentation. It was beautifully
structured, clear and helpful. However, there are a couple of points I am not
totally clear about. First, there is the AFA and FTA. I am not quite sure what
those transfer agreements are. Could you explain what they are and what issues
arise from them?
Mr. Nabigon: AFA and FTA are current policies enacted by the Treasury Board. The
AFA is the Alternative Funding Arrangement, and FTA is the Fiscal Transfer
I am asking for a moratorium because there is too much control and there is no
flexibility at the community level for chiefs to decide on different ways to
solve problems. That is basically how I understand the AFA and the FTA.
Senator Pearson: I would be interested in a further description of how these
mechanisms work. I assume that a band enters into an agreement.
Mr. Nabigon: Yes. These agreements are for specific areas only. They are rigidly
controlled by Ottawa, and the chief and council cannot manoeuvre within the
agreements to consider, perhaps, more creative solutions to problems unless
they go through a lot of red tape to have the agreements changed, and it is
almost impossible to have changes made within the time frames.
Our experience is that these agreements are very colonialistic and give
outsiders too much control over making decisions respecting local problems.
Senator Pearson: Under Bill C-49, would those particular transfer agreements no
longer be applicable?
Mr. Nabigon: I am hoping that they will not be applicable. I do not have copies
of the agreements with me. I should have brought them.
Senator Pearson: Perhaps someone else will be able to answer that question for
Mr. Nabigon: Those agreements create a lot of headaches for our local people
when they are attempting to solve problems.
We look at it as follows: If a family has a problem, usually the parents make
some decisions on how to solve these problems. However, if someone who lives
outside of the family decides how those problems will be solved, it does not
address the issues. That is the impact of the AFA and the FTA.
Senator Pearson: I understand that. There is always a question of how the money
comes from the federal government to the nations.
Mr. Nabigon: Only one band I am aware of has sufficient control over its
funding, and that is the Sechelt Indian Band in British Columbia. The other
bands have these arrangements for the transfer of funds to the First Nations
through the AFA and FTA.
Senator Wilson: You seem to believe that self-government is better achieved
through a ground-up approach as opposed to a top-down one. Can you tell us how
you would implement that?
Mr. Nabigon: I do not "seem" to believe; that is my conviction.
Senator Wilson: How would you accomplish that?
Mr. Nabigon: What I gave you is a skeletal outline. I was told that you did not
want any more than five or six pages, so I did not have time to elaborate on
how this could be done.
Currently there are about 600 First Nations in the country. They are small
communities of between 300 and 500 people. They are scattered right across the
provinces and the territories. Because they are all small communities, they
organize themselves in tribal councils to make administration more efficient.
Where I come from, they have a tribal council of seven First Nations. This is
how they are organizing themselves at the community level. It starts with
tribal councils, and then goes to the provincial treaty organizations and
finally to the Assembly of First Nations.
They want to be able to use economies of scale, so they organize themselves into
tribal councils, based on their treaty area.
Where I come from, the earliest treaty was signed in 1850, the Robinson Treaty
with the Ojibwa Indians of Lake Superior. That area has 18 communities, and we
have two tribal councils that operate under that treaty. They are responsible
for ensuring that services are provided to their members, under the control of
the AFA and FTA. That is how it is organized now.
We look at it as a backward way of doing things. I gave the analogy of the
family solving family problems. The same kind of principle applies at that
local level. People at the local level know what their problems are, and they
have a good idea of how to resolve those problems. In most cases, all they need
is the technical expertise to move the issues forward.
They rely on people like myself who can write academic papers. Many of them have
difficulty writing papers such as the one I presented this afternoon. The level
of education in First Nations is, on average, Grade 10. However, they see
themselves as the experts on local problems, not the bureaucrats in Ottawa.
They see what impact unemployment and welfare have in our communities. Yet,
trucks drive by our First Nations up north loaded with all the wealth coming
from our land; and we are not even consulted. There is a growing resentment
that the resources and the land base must be shared to solve our problems. I
outline some strategies in this paper on how to achieve that.
We must turn that pyramid upside down. The people must start giving direction to
the leaders. That is why I was talking about listening. Our leaders must stay
quiet when our people talk, and take some direction.
Senator Andreychuk: You are saying that it should be direction from the bottom
up and that the leaders will take direction. Do you wish to comment on how the
federal government should negotiate within the aboriginal community?
As I understand the present process, ministers deal only with recognized leaders
in the aboriginal community, whether it is a First Nations community or
otherwise. Some groups have come to us and said that these leaders do not speak
for them, and that they have not given them any right to negotiate on
self-government. Do you believe that the federal government should continue to
negotiate with these recognized aboriginal leaders, or should there be some
other structures in place for self-government negotiations?
Mr. Nabigon: I have mixed feelings about that because of our history with
Canada. Before confederation, our traditional chiefs spoke for the people.
Today we have elected band chiefs under the Indian Act. Therefore, they are a
product of colonization. I suspect that is why those people were telling you
For me, I still subscribe to the formal arrangements that we have through our
chiefs. Our people did actually sit down and put an "X" beside a name
on a ballot and voted them in, so they have the authority to speak for our
people, regardless of what piece of legislation is being discussed. I recognize
the authority of, for example, Phil Fontaine of the Assembly of First Nations.
He speaks for me when he speaks for all First Nations in Canada.
There is a divergence of opinions in our community, as there is in any other
community. I suppose I am considered a conservative by many native people. I do
not want to be associated with the Reform Party, mind you, but I am a
Senator Adams: You are talking to a Conservative senator.
Senator Andreychuk: We both made the distinction. We are not Reform.
I asked the question because there is a growing problem. The off-reserve
aboriginal community feels that their needs are urban and need to be addressed
quickly. Should they be treated any differently, or should we still deal with
them directly through band leaders?
Mr. Nabigon: I speak for the First Nations communities here, not for the urban
Indians. I am not clear on their political agenda; however, I am clear about
the status Indians who live on the reserve. I am aware of their problems and
their issues. I am also very cognisant of how these problems could be solved. I
do not pretend to speak for all natives.
Senator Andreychuk: Basically, your submission addresses First Nations.
Mr. Nabigon: It addresses First Nation communities, yes.
Senator Adams: I wish to follow up on the questions asked by Senator Andreychuk.
There are significant problems in Ontario. We have heard that 45 per cent of
the native population is living in the city, off reserve.
It is now more than 10 years since we passed Bill C-31 in Parliament. We heard
from the women's association last night that the legislation is not working as
it should. There have been significant problems in the communities.
Have you heard of people who were born on the reserves, went to live in the
city, and then returned to the reserves and had problems? What do you think
about Bill C-31?
Mr. Nabigon: I supported Bill C-31. Many of our chiefs are saying, "If you
are a member of my First Nation, I am responsible for you, regardless of where
you live, whether you live on the reserve or in the city. The services should
be provided to you regardless of whether you fall under Bill C-31 or are a
Many complex issues surround Bill C-31. The land base in most communities is too
small, and there are not enough resources so that people can return home to
jobs. They have problems integrating their own people back into their
communities. There is significant tension between the chiefs and Bill C-31
Indians or native people. It is sad to see that being played out in your own
I believe Mr. Crombie was the minister when Bill C-31 was passed. He created the
problem. The government should make serious policies to deal with Bill C-31 and
urban Indians. If the national will is there, there could be ways to build an
infrastructure for these people to take advantage of their rights. Too often,
governments, the current government and past governments, consider native
people to be a problem.
Senator Adams: The passage of Bill C-31 created quite a few problems on the
reserves. At the time the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
introduced Bill C-31, I do not remember exactly how many people off reserve
wanted to come back. The reserves did not have enough housing to bring those
people back. At that time, we had a limit. They said, "You can go back to
the community and build your own house, and we will give you something like
$80,000." However, they could not be guaranteed a job or a good
educational system. For people who lived for so many years in the city, life
was not the same, and the adjustment was difficult. Do you agree?
Mr. Nabigon: That does happen. I will not deny that. The way I look at it, the
chief and council have the worst jobs in the world because they are caught
between their own people and the government through those agreements. They
cannot make any decisions. No matter what decision they may try to make, there
will always be criticism.
They are, in fact, administering poverty. How can you have a successful
community if 50 per cent of your people have no work? When you have an influx
of Bill C-31 people, what do you do with them? This is a serious problem, and
it creates a significant amount of tension. We have mental health problems and
addiction problems. Those problems can multiply. It is not a good scenario.
I agree that Bill C-31 creates tension. To find some hope for a better life,
many people move into the city. When they get into the cities, they are not
equipped. They do not have the skills to compete for jobs in the marketplace.
If I had a magic wand, I would make all of Ottawa disappear -- except for
Senator Adams: You mentioned the economic difficulties with the land base. If
everyone wants self-government, how do you ensure that there is a land base and
adequate educational facilities? I do not know the exact number of square
kilometres involved, but for self-government, people need an economy.
I still like to go hunting. Living in the Arctic, we do not have a hunting
season. Of course, Ottawa regulates the hunting of some endangered mammal
What do you see in the future regarding land bases in the reserve communities?
Mr. Nabigon: Prior to 1867, all of Canada belonged to native people. Currently,
1 per cent of the land is owned by native people. We do not really have a land
base with which to build our economies. I mentioned in the presentation that
land claims must be settled. A land base is needed to develop the economies.
Our people are very intuitive. If you give them an opportunity, they will build
on it. Most parents want what is best for their children. For that reason, they
will build a society of which they can be proud.
Right now they do not have the tools, nor the land base, but they have the
smarts. If the government can open its doors and make it happen, it would
Senator Gill: Remember that when Bill C-31 was passed a Conservative government
was in power. At that time, the question was raised as to whether the people
were represented properly by their leadership. Now, in the province of Ontario,
you have the party that forms the government, and the opposition party, the
Liberals and the Conservatives; and, federally, you also have the Bloc Québécois,
and the Reform Party. In addition, you have all kinds of organizations
representing the opposition, within the structures. Furthermore, you have
engineering, medical, and many other associations representing people in
different ways, be it politically, professionally or otherwise. That is not the
case with regard to our native peoples.
Sometimes native women criticize the band council. Sometimes they have a valid
point, and sometimes they do not, but that is all part of the game. Some people
do not feel confident that their leaders speak on behalf them. What would you
do to correct or improve this situation?
Mr. Nabigon: The Native Women's Association of Canada and other associations,
including the AFN are protest and lobby organizations. That is what they do.
Many organizations lobby senators and MPs. That is the nature of democracy, and
it is a good system. I believe that this is one of the best systems in the
world. If I lived in another country and I came up with these proposals, I would
have been thrown in jail. I would have been considered a subversive.
Getting back to your question, the government decides what voice it will listen
to. If it decides to listen to the AFN, that is what it will do. It has already
played a major card in recognizing the Delgamuukw decision in British Columbia.
I know that the AFN has close ties with Jane Stewart, the Minister of Indian
Affairs and Northern Development. That voice is recognized by the government. I
would not want to be so arrogant as to tell the senators which voice speaks for
the people, because you will decide who you wish to listen to. That is your
decision to make. I am only the humble voice of the wind in the trees. That is
all I am.
Senator Gill: As are we. If I understood you correctly, you see the community at
the top of the pyramid, then a nation, and then a group of nations at the
bottom, controlling the pyramid.
Mr. Nabigon: That is correct.
Senator Gill: Instead of turning to Ottawa, you see your own leaders
representing the people at the top of the pyramid, Indians and Inuit, and
controlling those issues that concern them respectively. Do you see something
like this happening eventually? Are we dreaming when we think this way?
Mr. Nabigon: I do not think we are dreaming. According to our existing belief
system, all the players are interconnected. In some small way I am connected to
this committee by virtue of living and working in Canada and teaching at the
university. I am connected, but at the same time I recognize that the people
who are most affected are the ones who live in the communities. Their voice is
important. That is why we want to turn the pyramid upside down. That way, when
our leaders speak, they will do so as the voices of the people.
I can speak with authority on that issue. The chief of our First Nation has had
no opposition. He has been like a traditional chief; he has been re-elected
eight times. That is 16 years with no opposition. To me, he speaks for the
people. There has been no change of leadership.
However, the communities that have a high turnover of leaders are not getting
the quality of leadership they deserve. Their authority is recognized by Ottawa
through the Indian Act. In some ways the Indian Act works for us, in other ways
it does not. In this case, the leadership that the people elect under the
Indian Act, is recognized by the federal government and that is the voice to
which Minister Stewart listens.
The Chairman: In your paper you identified that there would have to be a
national will, a substantial movement to deal with aboriginal matters, whatever
their nature. You also spoke about the division of powers. In addition, you
spoke about having the land claims dealt with once and for all, to put that
aside, so they would no longer be obstacles to partnership arrangements in the
establishment of self-governing bodies.
You also spoke about turning the pyramid upside down. Flowing from Senator
Gill's questions, are you in the same frame of mind as he is in regard to
establishing a mechanism that does not exist today within the central system --
perhaps not necessarily do away with the Department of Indian Affairs
altogether, but at least move in that direction by establishing another
mechanism that eventually will take over?
At the national level, aboriginal people elected from the grassroots level would
be sent to Ottawa, I would imagine, along the line of Senator Gill's idea.
Would it be acceptable to move in the direction of establishing an aboriginal
assembly? Maybe not necessarily one aboriginal assembly, but there might be
three aboriginal assemblies flowing from section 35 of The Constitution Act,
Mr. Nabigon: I do not know if that would work. If I understand your question
correctly, it has not really worked in New Zealand with the Maoris.
Creating a special house with advisory capacity is not the idea of
self-government. All it would then do is advise the government of the day on
native issues. As I understand our elders, native people want to have the
authority restored to the people. With that authority, we would have community
development and access to capital to build the community. In my mind, that is
how the national will is played out. The senior governments have the national
will to open the doors and make things happen. Creating another layer of
politicians who are elected by our own people, to sit as a native voice in a
native assembly, does not really address the issue.
The Chairman: If they had more than a recommending function that problem would
be overcome. Would it be acceptable if they were equipped with enabling
Mr. Nabigon: If they had the authority of enabling legislation, it would be a
different matter altogether. That is part of the structure we are looking at
when we speak about jurisdiction and legislative competence. That is part of
the national will that is missing in the current government. They are doing
some good things. I will not sit here and say that they are not fulfilling their
responsibilities. Their recent publication, "Gathering Strength", is
a good paper. It includes a community development strategy and it addresses
some issues arising from the RCAP.
I know that in the real world nothing can ever be perfect. However, if we take
incremental steps we will make progress. The fact that I am now teaching
university is a step forward for native people. Twenty years ago, they would
not even open the doors to us. Now, I am teaching there. There has been
progress. It is very small.
What you are talking about is a good idea. Enabling legislation would address
that advisory capacity. Why would I want to be advising Jean Chrétien? I
have better things to do in my life.
The Chairman: Your brief refers to the division of power. You know that if you
enter into negotiations you must bargain, there is a give and take.
Mr. Nabigon: I understand that.
The Chairman: Some of us as aboriginal people have been involved in these
give-and-take negotiations. As a matter of fact, some of us have already gone
through the steps that you have outlined. For example, the Inuit and the Cree
of Quebec have gone through this in a very similar fashion to the way you
outline in your presentation. After 25 or 30 years, we are finding out that
things are not being implemented.
Dividing powers may not be the best thing to do if we are to be a nation of
aboriginal people, to have a nation of our own and have a system of our own. I
am speaking of something different from the two levels of order as outlined in
sections 91 and 92 of the British North American Act. You are quite familiar
Mr. Nabigon: Yes.
The Chairman: If we are coming in as a third party you recognize, of course,
that we will be powerless. However, in the highest law of this country, in the
Constitution, we are not powerless because we are recognized in that statute.
If the national will is there, as you mentioned, that unfinished business could
move ahead along the lines of what you are suggesting here. Are you in
agreement with that?
Mr. Nabigon: I am in agreement with what you are saying.
The Chairman: However, you are not necessarily in agreement on the division of
powers. I am having a problem with the part of your presentation regarding the
division of powers. I know at some point down the line, if you have the tools
with the enabling legislation, perhaps you will form formulate your rights and
then you can negotiate if you run into a deadlock, but not before.
Mr. Nabigon: I would take an incremental approach to the one you are suggesting.
The way the current system operates, Ottawa has a right to determine if I could
be a member of my own First Nation, not my chief and council. Therefore, the
division of powers must include band membership. I am talking about a very
The Chairman: You would have the basic authority that you need to have.
Mr. Nabigon: We would have the basic authority that we need, and then we would
have the confidence required.
The Chairman: You are not really talking about a question of jurisdiction over
Mr. Nabigon: Yes, I am talking about jurisdiction over the land because we must
have some control over how this land will be developed. It is a phantom land
base that I am talking about. We should have some control over that land.
The Chairman: We are also wrestling with the concept of "nation." At
times, one community calls itself a nation rather than a collective of
communities becoming a nation. Do you have any suggestions on how we wrestle
with that question?
Mr. Nabigon: I apply the United Nations definition of nationhood. Nationhood
involves a land base, and a people with common language and common traditions.
The Ojibway nation -- the nation I come from -- surrounds all of Lake Superior.
We are the largest aboriginal nation in Canada. We have a common language, a
common land base, common traditions, common spiritual beliefs, and common ways
of doing things. For me, that is a nation.
It is not restricted to the reserve, it is restricted to a region. Our history
tells us we have been there 20,000 years, according to archaeological digs.
Senator St. Germain: I grew up in rural Manitoba in a Métis community.
This may be an oversimplification, but I would like your reaction to it. If our
native people are to share equally in our society, my view is that the greatest
resource that they can get is education. I think you, and others whom I have
met who are active in the native community, are living proof of that.
You told us that you want the authority given back to the people, which is fine,
and the resources to make that happen. I believe that, apart from basic
subsistence, the money should only be used for education.
In this committee we have discussed the importance of education with other
native leaders, including those from Gillam, Manitoba.
The other point is that they must become mobile. Is it not possible to keep the
focus on education and support mobility so that those who do take advantage of
education can go to Montreal, teach in universities, or do whatever they must
do, while helping to maintaining their nations and their communities? They can
go back to their nations and share what they have learned. In this way, the
people will not be left on the reserves where there is really nothing to do.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu went to James Bay and advised them to develop some
industry there. I would point out, however, that you can develop all the
industries you want, but you must have a market. The government built
infrastructure in Cape Breton and tried to create certain industries, but
everyone went broke because there was no market for the products. There are rows
of empty warehouses and factories which had to be shut down because the market
was not there.
What do you think? Am I off base or oversimplifying the situation?
Mr. Nabigon: I do not think that is an oversimplification. The government trying
to make it happen by building a significant amount of infrastructure, with the
market not being there to absorb costs of the infrastructure, is folly at best.
In my view, it is flawed thinking.
Some 12 per cent of the general population of Canada have post-secondary
education. In the native community, only 1 per cent have post-secondary
education. We have a long way to go to catch up with the general Canadian
population. Obviously, education is a tool. You must be able to read and write.
It is basic. It is pretty obvious that, if I could not read and write, I would
not be sitting here.
When we consider a community and its needs, we must take into account the
isolation factor and the lack of markets. What kind of economy can you build in
isolation that is not dependent on people? You must find some way to reach the
market. Our communities have many ideas on that subject. We are not necessarily
asking the federal government to relocate its bureaucrats to the north or
anything like that. Why would I want a bureaucrat from Ottawa living in my
community? It does not make sense.
What makes sense to us is secondary industry, ecotourism and those kinds of
developments. There are many ways to develop this country and at the same time
build stronger communities, not only for native people, but for all of us.
If our people are paying taxes as opposed to transfer payments, we would be
better off. That is all I am saying.
Senator St. Germain: Do you agree that the vast majority of native people would
need to leave the reserve to work in major industrial centres?
Mr. Nabigon: Many of our people are already migratory. That is not a problem.
The Chairman: Thank you for your excellent presentation. We will be
communicating with you again.
Our next witness is Ambassador Simon. She and I grew up and went to school
Please proceed, Ms Simon.
Ms Mary Simon, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade,
Ambassador, Circumpolar Affairs: First, I would like to take this opportunity
to thank you for taking on this challenge. I am looking forward to your report
and the clarity that I am expecting you will bring to this complex and
challenging issue. Thank you for inviting me to appear before you this
As my contribution to the important work of your community, I would like to
discuss several matters with you today that I hope can contribute to your
special study on aboriginal self-government. I will, however, be confining my
discussion to matters related to the Inuit, and the choices, as well as the
contributions, they have made regarding the evolving issue of aboriginal
The Inuit are responsible for important contributions to historic and
ground-breaking work such as the establishment of the Nunavut Territory, as
well as a number of comprehensive land claims treaties, all of which contain
The Inuit are also very active in contributing to international fora and
influencing the development of new policy initiatives.
Let me start with the choice Inuit have made, as expressed in the new Nunavut
government, of a system of public versus ethnically based government. In my
opinion, the debate around this choice should be viewed as a subjective rather
than a qualitative question as to whether any particular system or set of
institutions achieves what a particular people think of as their self-government
Self-determination and self-government are really processes. At this point
within the new Nunavut Territory, it is too early to determine whether Inuit
will find that the system of public government permits them to achieve their
When the Inuit were negotiating their claim in the 1980s, the federal government
took the position that the creation of a new territory was not about aboriginal
self-government. However, once the legislation was passed by Parliament in
1993, the federal government seemed to change its approach. Now, it often
refers to the creation of Nunavut as an exercise in self-government for Inuit.
This apparent change in communication strategy by the government does not
necessarily reflect a change in position. Rather, it may reflect the view that
self-determination is achievable within the public institutions of governance.
The federal aboriginal self-government policy states that Inuit groups in
various parts of Canada have expressed the desire to address their
self-government aspirations within the context of larger, public government
arrangements, even though they have, or will receive, their own separate land
base as part of a comprehensive land claims settlement. The creation of the new
Territory of Nunavut is one example of such an arrangement on a large scale.
Self-government arrangements in a public government context do not preclude
consideration of other arrangements at some future date, provided that all
parties concerned are in agreement.
The Inuit too see the new Nunavut government as their government, but not in an
exclusive, but rather an inclusive way.
Permit me to quote Mr. John Amagoalik, known to many as the "father of
Nunavut." He says:
There was a time when many of my generation did not have pride in our Inuit
identity and were not sure if they wanted to be Canadian citizens. Today, there
is a resurgence of Inuit pride and we have become loyal Canadians. Even though
our people have encountered racial discrimination in the past, we want
reconciliation and we want all to feel welcome in our homeland. Our patience and
our willingness to share continue to be cornerstones of our society.
As the vast majority in the Nunavut Territory, the choice, and perhaps the
gamble, that Inuit have taken is that, through time, a system of government
will be moulded and re-examined to respond to the needs of the people of the
region. It is a system based on democratic choice versus ethnicity and its
associated rights. Only time will tell if the choice was a wise one.
Let me move on now to the contribution that Inuit have made to other expressions
of governance in the area of policy making and policy development. The most
current example is that of the Arctic Council. Formally inaugurated in
September of 1996, the process leading to the establishment of the Arctic
Council is an example of how perseverance and constructive dialogue can forge
new relationships between aboriginal peoples and their governments. The
category of permanent participants, which is for international indigenous
organizations, was created to provide for the active participation of and full
consultation with the Arctic indigenous representatives within the council.
There are several important initiatives now being undertaken by the Arctic
Council that contribute directly to aboriginal self-determination and to
improving the ability of northern aboriginal peoples to make informed choices
about their futures, including matters of governance.
The first is an initiative called Canada's Children and Youth of the Arctic. The
goals of this project are, first, to improve the health and well-being of
children and youth in the Arctic, and second, to improve the basis for sound
decision-making by increasing the knowledge and understanding of sustainable
development among that group. The longer-term objective is to engage and empower
through internships or student exchanges, networking, and new learning
opportunities, and provide them with a broader base for future decision-making.
The project is focused at this point on issues mainly related to environmental
protection and sustainable development. However, the experience gained through
the process of international cooperation will undoubtedly contribute to the
ability of today's youth to become informed contributors to important decisions
concerning future governance.
It is this next generation of Inuit youth who, perhaps more than any before it,
will be challenged by the pressures of technology and rapid change. Whether
they encounter their future equipped with the knowledge, skills and
self-confidence to shape their social, economic and political future, or
abdicate that authority, will depend on decisions made today.
We cannot contemplate a better future for northern children and youth without
acknowledging the need for more and better educational opportunities. Closely
linked with the Children and Youth of the Arctic Initiative is Canada's support
for the proposed University of the Arctic. This "university without walls"
will consist of a consortium of institutions of higher education cooperating to
provide programs according to their own unique strengths. These programs will
be available throughout the circumpolar region. The initiative has been
conceived and driven by the aspirations of those whom it will serve,
Over the longer term, it is anticipated that the cooperation among educational
institutions, regionally and internationally, will serve to raise the level of
understanding and awareness needed to develop solid governing institutions
based on northern needs and evolving capacities.
Another exciting initiative was the decision of the Department of Foreign
Affairs and International Trade, with the support of the Department of Indian
Affairs and Northern Development, to develop a northern foreign policy for
Canada. The development of this policy has been based on a process of
consultation with northerners, including territorial governments, aboriginal
peoples, and their representative organizations. It focuses on harnessing
Canada's foreign relations to achieve prosperity and human security in the
north. It signals Canada's progress toward a more deliberate, sustained pursuit
of clearly articulated objectives. It also recognizes, with the reshaping of
Canada's own north, that solving many of our own northern problems, or
capitalizing on the opportunities, will require concerted international action
The policy will be built around the central goals of securing the well-being and
prosperity of northern Canadians, protecting and restoring the northern
environment, and building a stable and prosperous circumpolar community.
One way this will be achieved is through the promotion of circumpolar good
governance and democratic development. At the same time, however, the policy
recognizes the special role indigenous peoples play in this process and will
put in place a set of objectives to pursue the involvement of indigenous
peoples in Arctic international decision-making, and the recognition and
enhancement of their rights.
Canadian Inuit have an important role to play in this process. We already have
examples of how, with the support of the federal government, they are reaching
out to assist indigenous peoples in Russia by working with them to develop
their institutions as an important first step in the work towards reform, good
governance, and democratic development. This work is helping these indigenous
groups to marshal their own human resources to meet the challenges of
Now in its final stages, the draft policy document will be further discussed in
the north before it becomes a final policy statement. Northern, territorial,
regional, and local governments, as well as aboriginal organizations, will
continue to be involved in the identification of priorities for government
action as a result of the policy and in the implementation of any decisions.
One might ask, what do these processes have to do with self-government? I firmly
believe that there is much to be gained by becoming involved in Canadian and
international policy development. Maintaining a domestic focus only, ignores a
very important opportunity for influencing international fora and using those
institutions to promote Inuit aspirations and protect their rights.
We are increasingly part of a broader world community, which presents both
opportunities and dangers. To ignore either is short-sighted. As Inuit
self-determination and self-government evolve, the involvement of Inuit in
these processes can contribute to important thinking about these issues.
I kept my presentation fairly short because I understood that the important part
of this session is the question and answer period. Therefore, I will leave it
at that for now.
Senator St. Germain: First of all, what is international fora?
Ms Simon: International organizations like the UN, sustainable development.
Senator St. Germain: Is that a Latin word? I have never heard of it before.
Senator Pearson: It is the plural of forum.
Senator St. Germain: Is it? Well see, I learned something tonight. At least I am
honest enough to say that I do not know.
The previous witness said that approximately 1 per cent of our aboriginal
peoples are not even graduating with a secondary school education. Some of us
believe that the only resource that will really assist our aboriginal people is
Is anything being done to encourage the young to further their education? There
must be a problem somewhere. Education often relates to the environment in
which one is raised. I want everyone to understand what the word "fora"
means. Can you tell me?
Ms Simon: I agree that many young people are still not graduating from secondary
education. We must do more to promote education at the community level.
Nevertheless, the number of graduates has increased quite a lot. In the
Canadian north, we have seen an increase in students who graduate from high
school. Much of that has to do with the fact that higher education is being
offered in more communities.
When Senator Watt and I were going to school, we could only go up to grade 6 in
our community, and then we had to go elsewhere for further education. That was
at a very young age.
There were a significant number of problems related to being sent out of the
community to school, not just in terms of residential schools, but in terms of
being separated from your family and the culture shock that was part of the
process. Education is improving in terms of staying in school.
Certain things are being done to promote education in Canada. One is a national
program called "Stay in School". That program is being implemented
more and more in the north, where some of our leaders are talking to our
students about staying in school. That helps to promote the idea that one needs
a formal education to be competitive in everyday life and in the world.
As young people often remind us, they must depend on a wage income in this day
and age. Preserving the traditional way of life, even though it is still
extremely important and is a priority for our culture in the north, is not the
only thing they have to do. They need an education so that they can find
employment. However, the problem is that there are very few employment
opportunities in the north. This is a catch-22 situation. If young people
receive a higher education, there are not necessarily jobs for them at the
community level, which creates another problem.
I also mentioned in my presentation the Arctic Council project on children and
youth, the second part of which is related to education and internships. Young
people or students can go to different countries to learn about different
activities that are taking place in the circumpolar region. I will give you an
In the north, we have an understanding about sustainable development. It
provides a sensible way of managing resources, not over-exploiting them. That
system is not understood very well in the south.
When leaders in the south and the north talk about development issues, the
discussion is more in terms of sustaining the environment. It is not about
sustaining the communities or about developing sustainability within the
community. We want to engage younger people and learn more about what
development is all about, not simply in terms of protecting the environment, but
also in terms of employment opportunities while maintaining a high standard for
environmental protection. These are some of the things we are doing in the
north that will help promote better education for students and young people.
Senator St. Germain: I think you said that there must be a mobility factor. You
can have the best education in the world, but what if there are no jobs? The
people must be mobile in order to move to the jobs. Young people are telling
you that they need the financial resources to maintain a reasonable lifestyle,
and perhaps that can only be had in the south.
This notion runs counter to what you are saying -- that sustainable development
is not only a question of maintaining the environment; it is also a question of
maintaining the community. The two concepts run counter to each other. How do
you reconcile this?
Ms Simon: This all relates to the governance issue this committee is studying. I
do not think it is in the people's interest to move out of the territory. As
far as I am concerned, no one really wants to move away from their own
community. In fact, it is difficult sometimes to get people to move from
Keewatin to Baffin Island, which are northern communities, let alone to get them
to move from the north to the south. I do not think we will see a real movement
in terms of people leaving the territory.
The challenge is to figure out a way to provide more opportunities for
northerners. The new Nunavut government is an example of how, through
governance, some of that can take place. I think people will have more control
over their education. People will have more control over how economic and
social development take place at the community level. As well, self-government
will provide them with more authority over what kind of development takes place
in the north, and it will allow them to negotiate conditions with developers
that will bring economic prosperity to the north.
This is a very complex issue, but the bottom line is that government
institutions must be in place to allow for that kind of involvement from
aboriginal communities to take place.
Senator Johnson: Can you tell me what you do as Ambassador for Circumpolar
Ms Simon: I do many things. When I was appointed ambassador, I was asked to
negotiate the Arctic Council. I was appointed four-and-a-half years ago. The
agreement took over two years to negotiate. The council consists of eight
Arctic nations and four international indigenous organizations. Following the
creation of the council in 1996, I chaired it on behalf of Canada for two years.
When the chairmanship went to the United States recently, Minister Axworthy
asked me to develop this northern foreign policy. I have spent most of my time
travelling in the north, consulting with northerners, both aboriginal and
non-aboriginal. We are in the process of writing the policy.
I then have about 25 or 30 other files that I work on.
I advise Minister Axworthy and Minister Jane Stewart, to whom I report on
domestic and international issues, as the need arises.
Senator Johnson: Thank you for that. It leads into my question about how
aboriginal peoples in Canada can tie in to the existing governing structures of
the Arctic Council. This relates to our study on aboriginal governance. There
are, of course, challenges for aboriginal people to overcome in order to
implement self-government. How do you view the Arctic Council and those other
eight countries with which you are working in terms of governance?
Ms Simon: A good example is the principle that the Canadian government has
adopted; that is, whenever we go to any Arctic Council meetings, I am generally
the head of delegation, but we ensure that northern peoples are involved. We
have representatives from the three territories now. As well, the leaders of
indigenous organizations such as the Dene, the Yukon First Nations, and the Métis
are invited to be part of the Canadian delegation.
In addition, we have the permanent participant category, which is one below
member states. There is agreement that they participate in all the
deliberations. The only difference between a member state and a permanent
participant is that it is the eight member states that make the decisions in the
final round. However, because the permanent participants do a significant
amount of lobbying with the Arctic nations, they influence the decisions much
of the time.
Therefore, in terms of a government at work, you can see more and more
partnerships being built between the aboriginal representatives and northern
governments, as well as nation state governments.
That is an illustration of how governments can work together. It is still a long
way from being perfect, but I think it is the first time that organizations
have been formally accepted into an international governmental organization
like the Arctic Council.
Senator Johnson: What is your experience with the self-government aspirations of
aboriginal peoples in the other Arctic Council nations, such as Greenland?What
is happening on this matter in other countries with aboriginal populations?
Ms Simon: It varies from region to region. In Greenland, they have had home rule
government since 1979. There are many similarities between the act in Greenland
and the Nunavut Act. Agreements were negotiated with Denmark and ministries
were transferred to the Greenland authority over a period of time rather than
all at once. There are similarities with what is happening in Nunavut.
In regions such as Norway, Sweden, and Finland, they have what they call the "Saami
Parliaments," which are part of the state parliaments. They do not have
full authority, but more of an advisory role to the parliaments of those
Senator Johnson: They act in an advisory capacity?
Ms Simon: Yes. Their decisions must go before the Norwegian Parliament. They
make recommendations on certain issues. One of the difficulties of the Saami
people is that they have no land base, which has made it very problematic in
terms of creating governing institutions.
In the case of Russia, there is really no system in place at this point. I
referred briefly to a project in which the Inuit Circumpolar Conference has
been involved. It is funded through CIDA and is trying to help them develop
their institutional capacity. Not only are they not familiar with how to govern
themselves, but they have not been able to develop their capacity in the area of
non-governmental organization status. Under a project that has been in place
for two years, Russian aboriginal peoples have come to Canada to learn about
the different regions in the north. I think it is helpful.
Senator Johnson: How do you think they view our new territory and what we are
Ms Simon: The response has been phenomenal all over the world. This has been
widely talked about, not only in the circumpolar north but worldwide.
Aboriginal peoples generally have seen this as an example of how partnerships
can be built between aboriginal peoples and others within a nation state. It is
seen in a very positive light.
Senator Johnson: You have very exciting work ahead of you, and behind you.
Senator Pearson: I would like to follow up on the subject of children and
education. You have provided us with an excellent presentation and we
appreciate it a great deal. It helps to clarify some of the governance issues
we have been looking at. It is a model of non-ethnic, public governance in the
ways of cooperation. As you say, we must wait for the future to see what
happens, but we are optimistic.
You are fairly advanced in involving young people in decision-making processes.
There is a circumpolar youth group, is there not? Can you tell me about how the
younger people are becoming involved in the political structure or being
prepared for political life?
Ms Simon: In terms of the circumpolar effort, there has been work done over the
last 10 to 17 years in terms of involving youth. They have been involved in the
Inuit Circumpolar Conference itself. Every three years, the Inuit have an
international gathering that represents Inuit from the four countries: the
United States, Greenland, Canada, and Russia.
We take a hands-on approach and involve them in the deliberations. Involving
them in the work of the ICC, as one example, has been a positive initiative. We
are starting to see more leadership from the youth than we did in the last 10
or 15 years. Our age group was the last group that worked together, and then
there was a bit of a lapse. Now we are starting to see a resurgence of interest
from the youth on both national and international issues.
One of the reasons I have pushed so hard for children and youth projects at the
Arctic Council is so we can involve young people in the work of the different
countries, as well as in things like on-the-job training. On-the-job training
really works well for many young people, and we are trying to promote that
through the council through internship programs.
In Northern Canada, there are different youth organizations that have joint
meetings almost annually. The leadership in the different regions work very
well together and this encourages young people to become involved.
The involvement of elders is very important in the Inuit community, as is the
involvement of youth. The combination is producing more results and we are very
happy about that.
Senator Pearson: That is exciting news. We look at people like Senator Watt and
yourself, who were very young when you started out. As you were saying, in a
way, there is a generation that was missed, but this is an opportunity to work
together on things, to share a task with young people. That brings them into
networking as well as reinforcing their interests. That is quite exciting. There
is a structure now and it is not sporadic. It is something which should
Organizations that work on aboriginal self-governance must always look at ways
to involve the young people in doing tasks together with elders. That is really
the way to get good interactions taking place.
Senator Gill: My question is related to Senator St. Germain's question. In my
area, some artificial towns were created some years ago, towns such as Labrador
City, Wabush and Schefferville, James Bay and Radisson. Senator St. Germain was
talking about the mobility of manpower and this is a related subject.
Most of the workers in those areas are non-aboriginal. People from the south are
coming to the north, being trained, and then working there. Yet most of those
towns were built close to an aboriginal population. We have been doing these
crazy kinds of things for many years and I imagine the same thing is happening
all over Canada.
The more development that occurs in the north, the more marginalized the
aboriginal people become. We spend lots of money to train these non-aboriginal
people, who sometimes commute every week to the south. Big gymnasiums and other
attractions are built to give these people the impression that they are still
living in the south. Meanwhile, a native population is nearby, ready and
waiting to be trained.
Can we connect the employment needs with the development? We talk about
eco-tourism, ethno-tourism, and mining. There are so many kinds of activities
possible in the north. Can we connect these new activities with the young
people and the training schools? Why can we not train those in the north for
these industries instead of having to import people?
It would take planning but we have the resources. Of course, the government
would have to be involved. We should stop these crazy activities and use the
people who are on the spot. What is your position on that?
Ms Simon: This has been a contentious issue in the north and in other aboriginal
communities. I agree that, for many years, and even now, when development
proceeds in the north, people who will work in that project are moved in from
There is, though, a movement to change that. Senator Watt could speak to the
particular agreement which was signed in Nunavut with the mining company. That
is one example of how to negotiate agreements with developers to not only
provide an opportunity for an organization like Makivik to share in the
revenues, but also to provide for training of people who live in the region.
Falconbridge has done that with their mining operations and people seem to be
quite satisfied with the way things are going.
That kind of negotiation and agreement can take place between the two parties.
It is not always equitable in terms of negotiating power, but it depends on the
particular situation. It must be done on a case-by-case basis.
To refer back to the Arctic university again, the intention is to create a
virtual concept. There will not be a big building called the "Arctic
University." It will tie in different universities within the circumpolar
region as well as in Canada, and not necessarily just Arctic universities. They
will provide training in the home communities through the new technology that
we have now through the Internet and computers. That will help train people for
certain professions that are required on these development sites.
That training is a potential and a partial answer to the problems we are facing,
but it is still definitely a big issue.
Senator St. Germain: Is there any tax concession given to Falconbridge to hire
aboriginal peoples? Are the youth brought in at an early age for some kind of
work-exposure program so that they can relate to, and dream of one day, being
the "head honcho" of a particular department? Is any of that
Ms Simon: I cannot answer on the issue of tax concessions. The Chairman may know
the answer to that. Certain benefits are derived on both sides, for the Inuit
and for the developer.
The Chairman: There are certain benefits. They have tax concessions in part from
the Government of Quebec. They must also commit that during X number of years,
they will hire a certain percentage of Inuit people into the workforce in
different classifications or positions that need to be filled.
Senator St. Germain: Is Quebec a leader in this area?
Senator Gill: They are right now but they were not before.
The Chairman: No.
Senator Adams: After the Nunavut celebrations, I heard that some of the military
will no longer be in Nunavut in the future. There is a significant interest in
the military in the Arctic. There used to be a headquarters in Yellowknife, but
now Nunavut is separate from the Northwest Territories. The Dew Line, and
manned bases and so on, no longer exist as they did in the past. Everything is
now automatic in the territory. Do you have any feedback with regard to the
military? They used to conduct many exercises in the Nunavut area. I heard the
general was not too happy, because he could go wherever he wanted before, but
now he may have to ask permission from the Nunavut government before he can
engage in any military exercises within the community.
Ms Simon: I am sorry, but I do not know the specifics on your question. When we
were developing the northern foreign policy, we met with a number of military
colonels. They never indicated to me that they had a problem. In fact, they
said they were looking forward to working with a new northern government so
that they could continue to work on security issues.
Since the Cold War ended, security issues have changed quite dramatically. It is
no longer about military security. It is now more related to environmental
pollution and human security. The concept of "security" in the
development of northern foreign policy will be much broader than just military
security, although that is still given a priority.
There are many players in the whole process now, whereas it used to be basically
the federal government's domain. Sovereignty and security issues were really
the work of the federal government. There is a recognition now that there are
territorial governments and organizations, and the concept of security has
broadened dramatically. In that way, there must be a significant amount of work
done with territorial governments such as Nunavut. They indicated to me that
they were looking forward to working with them on that issue. I have not
confronted the problem that you expressed.
Senator Adams: Now that Nunavut is settled, we have two or three more treaties
such as Inuvialuit, Makivik, and Labrador. How do you see the future of land
claims settlements for those living in Northern Quebec? Labrador is part of
Newfoundland and Inuvialuit is mostly settled now. How do you see those two or
three claims being settled in the future?
Ms Simon: I can see each one being dealt with on a case-by-case basis, keeping
in mind the federal policy related to the settlement of land claims agreements
as well as negotiating agreements on self-government.
For Makivik and Labrador, there is the question of provincial negotiations,
which brings in another layer with which Nunavut did not have to contend. It
makes the negotiations more difficult, especially in light of the aspirations
that Quebec has for its own future and the idea that the native people or
aboriginal peoples should work within the confines of those aspirations. The
Inuit of Quebec have clearly stated that they are not interested in that. They
want to keep their ties with the federal government and that makes the
negotiations more complex. The Labrador case is, again, different, with the
development of the minerals.
I do not know as much about that agreement as I do the Makivik situation or
Northern Quebec. However, how they proceed also depends on the Newfoundland
government. It makes the issues more complex when you involve the provinces,
but it is a necessary element of the negotiations.
For Inuvialuit, a large part of their progress will be determined by how quickly
the Northwest Territories can agree on a new constitutional arrangement within
the territory as well as with all the other aboriginal groups. It is more
complex in the west because you have so many different aboriginal peoples who
all have different needs and different objectives in reaching self-government
agreements. Even the Dene Nation cannot come together on a common approach to
settling their land claims or their self-government issues. Much of the
Inuvialuit's ability to settle their claim will be determined by how quickly
the Northwest Territories agrees on their new constitution.
Senator Adams: Do you see a problem if Inuvialuit wanted to join Nunavut? Would
the government prevent that?
Ms Simon: I do not know too much about that right now.
The Chairman: Both of us have been involved in the negotiations and the
implementation of the so-called "James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement"
and Eastern Quebec agreement.
Recently, we had a witness in front of this committee from the Cree-Naskapi
Commission that was set up to monitor the aboriginal side in regard to the
agreement, to determine whether the legal obligation of the government is being
In their recommendations, they suggested that this committee should seriously
consider making recommendations on three areas. One is related to the fact that
they are having a great deal of difficulty implementing the legal binding
between the aboriginal nation -- the Cree Nation -- the Naskapi, and the Crown.
They also expressed quite strongly the view that they should not be formulating
policy any longer because those agreements are legally binding between the
aboriginals and the government. That means that the Minister of Indian Affairs
will have a remaining trusteeship responsibility for that, plus there will be
certain identified programs that she will have responsibility to ensure will
continue to be enjoyed by the people who are under the James Bay and Northern
There may be a lack of will or lack of understanding, because there are probably
three or four ways to understand the spirit of the agreement, and its letter
What do you think about the recommendations that were brought forward? You have
also been involved in the implementation side, trying to arrive at an
implementation mechanism between the Inuit and the federal government. Those
are only recommendations; they do not have teeth. This is one of the areas
identified by the Cree-Naskapi Commission, which said they need something more
if the government is to honour those legally binding agreements.
I would like your input, Ambassador Simon, on this area.
Ms Simon: First, I have not seen the actual recommendations. Therefore, I cannot
comment completely on the actual recommendation itself. I can, however, give
you an overview of what I think is the situation.
It is very difficult for a government department to have implementation
responsibility over a comprehensive land claims agreement such as the James Bay
and Northern Quebec Agreement, as well as the northeastern agreement, simply
because they are the trustees of the people. To me, if you are overseeing your
own responsibility, you sometimes, probably not intentionally, do not see the
obligations that you are entrusted to carry out. I have seen that happen. I
remember, when we were involved in the tripartite agreement between the Inuit
and the federal government, the difficulties that we had in interpreting what
those agreements meant. Often, the provisions set out in a land claims
agreement can be quite ambiguous or vague, and they can be interpreted, as
Senator Watt said, in three or four different ways. Whose word do you then take
in terms of how you implement that?
A more independent process would be helpful in ensuring that these agreements
are implemented properly. I agree that there are legal obligations in many of
those agreements that are not necessarily carried out, and someone should be
watching over how they are being implemented. If those agreements have already
been signed, then we should not have to renegotiate them. There is always room
for interpretation of how they should be implemented. I know that many times,
the legal interpretation comes into question.
The Chairman: By the same token, the same group that made the recommendations
also suggested that, since those are legally binding agreements, when
aboriginal groups challenge the government in the Supreme Court of Canada, they
always win. That was one of the points that they raised. They also suggested
that an interim aboriginal court should be set up to assume the responsibility
on the new legal terms, and it will be used to educate the Department of
Justice, and then that department can be more accessible to the other
departments for education purposes.
The third recommendation basically says that, since the Department of Indian
Affairs has trusteeship responsibilities and also administers the Indian Act,
it should not be the one negotiating with the aboriginal groups because it
would be negotiating with itself.
Could you give us just a broad comment on that? I am not really looking for a
detailed answer. I just want your reaction to those points.
Ms Simon: I already addressed the trusteeship question.
I have not seen the recommendations in writing so it is difficult for me to
comment on them. I am not a lawyer, so I really do not know how you set up an
aboriginal court. I do agree, though, that there must be more independence in
terms of how those agreements are implemented. That is something that this
committee will examine, I am sure.
The Chairman: Thank you, ambassador. We appreciate your very clear presentation.